Buyers Guide – W202/W203 C-Class AMGs • 1995-2006

Gary Anderson and Jonathan Hodgman, Data - Daniel Stahl

AMG BG 01_9.jpgThe early era of AMG‘s integration with Mercedes-Benz was defined by four models, four engines
and a single concept: hand-built power enlivening modified standard-production compact sedans


First of the Fast – W202/W203 C-Class AMGs • 1995-2006

Article Gary Anderson, Jonathan Hodgman

Images - Daimler Archives, Data - Daniel Stahl


The early era of AMG‘s integration with Mercedes-Benz was defined by four models, four engines
and a single concept: hand-built power enlivening modified standard-production compact sedans

Most of us know the basic history of Mercedes-AMG: Founded in 1967 as a racing engine constructor by Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, two former Mercedes-Benz engineers, the company quickly moved on to race its own modified sedans. AMG sold the first “Hammer” high-performance automobiles to private customers in 1986, signing an agreement of cooperation in 1990, so it could sell its tuned AMGs through Mercedes dealers. DaimlerChrysler acquired AMG in 1999 – later renamed Mercedes-AMG – as a wholly owned subsidiary and brand in its own right. Headquartered in Affalterbach, where the company moved in 1976, it produces engines for most of the models in the Mercedes-Benz lineup and designs its own sports cars from the ground up to be produced by Mercedes-Benz Cars.

But what about the details of that critical period between signing the first agreement and the present, as the “one person, one engine” concept became the core of the company’s business? That evolution can be understood by evaluating four successive models, the W202 C36 and C43, and the W203 C32 and C55 sold between 1995 and 2007. Produced in very small numbers, these high-powered sedans are now growing in popularity among enthusiasts who appreciate their responsive performance and stealthy appearance.


Soon after Mercedes-Benz had signed an agreement of cooperation with AMG, internal discussions began about the idea of developing an engine for the new W202 C-Class sedan, which would soon replace the W201 compact sedan that had been so successful in its Cosworth-engined 190E 2.3-16 form. The results were unveiled at the September 1993 IAA Frankfurt auto show as the C36 AMG, very similar to the rest of the W202 C-Class lineup, but  equipped with an AMG-tuned version of the M104 inline 6-cylinder engine.

Produced during 1995-1997 and very well-received, the C36 was replaced by the 302-horsepower C43 – with the first V-8 engine in a compact Mercedes-Benz sedan and the first engines for production cars hand-built entirely in the Affalterbach workshops – revealed at the September 1997 Frankfurt show with the introduction of the facelifted W202. It would be produced through 2000.

With the W202 C-Class executive-quality compact car proving to be very successful in the marketplace, the W203 models were introduced in March 2000. Perhaps because of the switch on other models to supercharged V-6 engines, when the C32 AMG version of the W203 was introduced in 2002, it reverted to the same V-6 design, with smaller engine capacity but producing 30 additional horsepower because of the supercharger.

Continuing the evolution, when the W203 was given a facelift in 2005, dramatic changes were made in the AMG version. The AMG-built V-8 engine from the CLK55 AMG, a coupe and cabriolet model built on the W202 C-Class chassis using some E-Class suspension parts, replaced the V-6 of the C32, upping output to 362 horsepower, but requiring substantial modifications to the front suspension and a completely different set of front body panels from the basic W203 C-Class. As a consequence, in many respects, the C55 might be considered the first AMG-designed high-performance sedan.  

1995-1997 C36 (W202)

With the W202 C-Class put into production for the 1994 model year, Mercedes-Benz teased the C36 AMG at the Frankfurt show in September 1993 as a competitor to the BMW M3. Promising 280 horsepower using 4-valve technology from the time-tested M104 engine in the C280, the car was eagerly anticipated before its launch for MY1995.

Taking ready-to-sell C280s off the production line, AMG disassembled the engines, bored out the engine block, ported the head and fitted new crankshafts, pistons and higher-lift camshafts to produce a 3.6-liter engine capable of 276 SAE horsepower, with zero-60 promised to be just over 6 seconds. Handling was improved by fitting sport suspensions, SL600 front brakes and E420 rear brakes.

The interiors of these cars, generally done in sporty-looking black leather and brushed aluminum, are quite impressive, providing a proper performance feeling, with the same white-on-black AMG treatment to the gauges that had become a trademark of the tuner firm since before the acquisition by Mercedes-Benz.

Reasons to buy: The C36 is considered by many enthusiasts to be very engaging to drive with a lot of personality. The 1997s are the best of the model, and can deliver a lot of fun for the money.

Reasons not to buy: The first two years of the highly tuned M104 engines were notorious for blowing head gaskets. In addition, problematical biodegradable wiring-harness insulation issues weren’t corrected until the third year of production. Because of very low production numbers, replacements for AMG custom body panels are nearly impossible to find and if damaged, must be repaired to the extent possible.

Overall: Look for a car in the best condition, with complete service records and known ownership in the 1997 model year, for the best buy. AMG aficionados will respect your acumen for maintaining this historical artifact that still delivers the goods.


Despite teething problems with blown head gaskets on early cars, the C36 – with its sporty AMG interior and eager performance – soon gained ranks of loyal owners who saw it as a true BMW M3 fighter.


The C43, debuting in 1998 with the first all-AMG hand-built V-8, offered increased power and torque, as well as a 5-speed automatic transmission.

1998-2000 C43 (W202)

Debuting a year after the W202 mid-production update, the C43 retained the same body style as the C36, but introduced the first all-AMG hand-built V-8, with finished engines being transported to Sindelfingen for installation in the W202 chassis along with specific AMG parts. With the engine producing 302 horsepower, the inherently strong 5-speed automatic transmission, as used in many different high-powered Mercedes-Benz models, was a welcome feature.

Reasons to buy: With zero-60 performance comfortably under 6 seconds, this is a fun car to drive and people are still surprised to see the signature V-8 engine under the hood of this unassuming compact.

Reasons not to buy: The M113 engine’s problems are minor, but include leaking valve-cover gaskets, an exhaust gas recirculation system, as well as secondary air ports that are prone to clogging, and lots of pricey spark plugs to replace periodically. Air-conditioning compressors are also susceptible to failure.

Overall: The M113 does make good power and can be as reliable as a Japanese car, but with perhaps a little less soul than the predecessor 6-cylinder engine.

2002-2004 C32 (W203)

Even though AMG left the C-Class field for two years, the influence of the rakish panels on the C36 and C43 carried over into the redesigned W203 version of the compact line, in fact with overtones of the S-Class. With extra time to adapt to the new chassis, AMG responded with a completely new suspension, racing-derived brakes, distinctive twin-spoke alloy wheels and the first AMG SpeedShift transmission.

As the AMG trademark was gaining traction, several different models could share the all-new hand-built 3.2-liter supercharged (Kompressor) engine producing 349 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, capable of zero-60 in the small sedan in 5.2 seconds, a full second faster than the predecessor V-8.

Reasons to buy: The C32 is perhaps the ultimate sleeper in the C-Class brand, with a relatively lightweight engine and excellent aerodynamics. It is even susceptible to a little remapping and changed gearing for performance that few will expect from the unassuming little four-passenger sedan.

Reasons not to buy: The downside is all relative. By the time this car was introduced, the larger E-Class was already getting AMG treatment, and with a full-on supercharged version of the 5.5L V-8 producing 500 horsepower, the 2003  E55 may be a more desirable alternative for not much more money.

Overall: If one of these transition puppies in great condition with known ownership and low mileage comes sniffing at your door, don’t turn it down while waiting for another period AMG. Instead, buy it knowing your AMG buddies will be respectful of your preservation of the least-well-known of Affalterbach progeny.

2005-2006 C55 (W203)

AMG engineers really pulled out all the stops when they applied their particular acumen to designing the second generation of the W203. Released from the requirement of using a supercharged V-6, with relief they reverted to the M113 V-8, which had by this time benefitted from being the power for the larger E-Class that was muscled out to 362 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque for the C-Class. So the C55 was born and this author, who has owned one since 2009, couldn’t be happier.

To go with it, they had the whole CLK-, SLK- and E-Class parts bin to scrounge in, so the front suspension is from the E-Class, providing a two-inch wider front track than the standard W203 version, and in back they went full Monte with low-profile tires wider than those on the front, and Brembo brakes, discretely marked with the AMG logo.

Reasons to buy: From the bark when the engine is fired up to the four chrome exhaust tips in the back, from the quick response to steering input to the “Whoa-Nellie”  behavior under braking, this is a seriously satisfying car to drive on the street or track. If 5.2 seconds was fast to 60 in the C32, try 4.7 seconds in this car.

Reasons not to buy: The low-to-the-ground front end looks terrific at speed or standing still, but it is an inch lower than most concrete parking stanchions. Unfortunately, with the small production numbers, the AMG-only front panel is no longer available, so repairing the plastic is the only option. Fuel efficiency that ranges from 15 to at-best 18 mpg on long-distance highway cruises is the price paid for performance.

Overall: The 2005-2007 C55 may be the most versatile and best value-for-money model in the Mercedes-Benz panoply of years and models. Reliability of the author’s C55 has been excellent, with only standard service required once a year. The only component failure was a non-Bosch voltage regulator replaced under warranty during the first three years of ownership. When well-maintained, the C55 looks as elegant as any other sedan carrying the three-pointed star on top of the hood over the traditional executive grille (no sport grille was available on this model). Four adults can ride in comfort out for a night on the town, and the owner can chase and catch two-seat roadsters on the racetrack the next morning.



1967              AMG founded as a racing engine constructor by Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher

1971              AMG enters its own car, the “Red Sow” 300SEL 6.3 sedan, in the 24 Hours of Spa and DTM races

1975-1990    AMG expands line of tuning and cosmetic accessories for Mercedes-Benz Cars

1983             190E 2.3-16 with Cosworth-designed M102.983 engine  introduced by Mercedes-Benz at IAA Frankfurt Auto Show in September; this is the firm’s first foray into performance-tuned compact-car market

1986              AMG announces “Hammer” sedan based on W124 E-Class to be produced on special order for private customers

1990              AMG signs co-operation agreement with Daimler-Benz to offer fully warrantied AMG modified cars through Mercedes-Benz dealers

1993              The W202 C36 AMG presented at IAA Frankfurt in September with AMG-developed 6-cylinder engine, employing 4-valve technology based on time-tested Mercedes-Benz M104 3.2-liter engine

1995               C36 AMG goes into serial production, with W202 sedans produced at Sindelfingen, then sent to AMG Affalterbach for upgraded engines and the installation of high-performance suspension components and brakes

1997               C36 AMG production ends in June with 5,221 units produced; at IAA Frankfurt in September, Mercedes-Benz announces C43 AMG, with AMG-built 4.3L V-8 engine using three-valve technology, dual  ignition and AMG-designed suspension modifications; C43s produced at Sindelfingen with engines built by individual technicians in Affalterbach workshops and installed at Sindelfingen, along with special suspension parts

1999               DaimlerChrysler AG buys controlling 51 percent share in AMG, creating Mercedes-AMG GmbH

2000               C43 AMG production ends May 2000: 3,085 units produced

2001               W203 C32 AMG with AMG-built 3.2-liter supercharged M112 V-6 begins development in April

2004               C32 AMG production ends in March (production total not available); Sindelfingen-assembled C55 AMG with 5.4-liter naturally aspirated M113 V-8 built in Affalterbach begins production 

Mercedes-AMG now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the parent company

2007               C55 AMG production ends in February (production total not available); units built in 2007 registered as Model Year 2006 examples




MODEL                W202 C36   

YEARS                 1995-1997   

BODY STYLE       Compact 4-door sedan   

ENGINE                M104 • 3,606cc  Inline 6   

HORSEPOWER    1995-96: 268 at 5,750 rpm   
                               1997: 276 at 5,750 rpm


TORQUE                1995-96: 280 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm   
                                1997: 284 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm


TRANSMISSION    4-Speed Auto (5-speed in ‘97)    

LENGTH                 177.4 in 

CURB WEIGHT      3,432 lb   

ZERO-60                 6.4 sec   

TOP SPEED            155 (limited)   

EPA MPG (est)        18/22 mpg   

MSRP NEW (est)    $51,000   



MODEL     W202 C43  

YEARS    1999-2000 

BODY STYLE   compact 4-door sedan   

ENGINE    M113 • 4,266cc V-8   

HORSEPOWER     302 at 5,850 rpm   

TORQUE                  302 lb-ft at 3,250-5,000rpm   

TRANSMISSION      5-Speed  Auto    


LENGTH                   177.4 in   

CURB WEIGHT       3,448 lb   

ZERO-60                 5.8 sec 

TOP SPEED            155 (limited)   

EPA MPG (est)        18/22 mpg   

MSRP NEW (est)     $53,000   



MODEL                    W203 C32   

YEARS                     2002-2004   

BODY STYLE          Compact 4-door sedan   

ENGINE                   M112 • 3,199 Supercharged V-6   

HORSEPOWER       354 at 6,100 rpm  

TORQUE                  332 lb-ft at 3,000-4,600 rpm  

TRANSMISSION      5-Speed SpeedShift Auto    

LENGTH                   178.3 in  

CURB WEIGHT         3,540 lb  

ZERO-60                   4.9 sec   

TOP SPEED              155 (limited)   

EPA MPG (est)           17/22 mpg  

MSRP NEW (est)        $51,000   



MODEL                        W203 C55

YEARS                         2005-2006

BODY STYLE              Compact 4-door sedan

ENGINE                       M113 • 5,439cc V-8

HORSEPOWER           1, 362 at 5,750 rpm

TORQUE                     376 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm

TRANSMISSION         5-speed SpeedShift Auto

LENGTH                      181.8 in

CURB WEIGHT          3,583 lb

ZERO-60                     4.9 sec

TOP SPEED                 55 (limited)

EPA MPG (est)            16/22 mpg

PRICE NEW (est         $55,000